Adaptation to the environment is essential for survival, in all wild animal species seasonal variation in temperature and food availability needs to be anticipated. This has led to the evolution of deep-rooted physiological cycles, driven by internal clocks, which can track seasonal time with remarkable precision. Evidence has now accumulated that a seasonal change in thyroid hormone (TH) availability within the brain is a crucial element. This is mediated by local control of TH-metabolising enzymes within specialised ependymal cells lining the third ventricle of the hypothalamus. Within these cells, deiodinase type 2 enzyme is activated in response to summer day lengths, converting metabolically inactive thyroxine (T4) to tri-iodothyronine (T3). The availability of TH in the hypothalamus appears to be an important factor in driving the physiological changes that occur with season. Remarkably, in both birds and mammals, the pars tuberalis (PT) of the pituitary gland plays an essential role. A specialised endocrine thyrotroph cell (TSH-expressing) is regulated by the changing day-length signal, leading to activation of TSH by long days. This acts on adjacent TSH-receptors expressed in the hypothalamic ependymal cells, causing local regulation of deiodinase enzymes and conversion of TH to the metabolically active T3. In mammals, the PT is regulated by the nocturnal melatonin signal. Summer-like melatonin signals activate a PT-expressed clock-regulated transcription regulator (EYA3), which in turn drives the expression of the TSHb sub-unit, leading to a sustained increase in TSH expression. In this manner, a local pituitary timer, driven by melatonin, initiates a cascade of molecular events, led by EYA3, which translates to seasonal changes of neuroendocrine activity in the hypothalamus. There are remarkable parallels between this PT circuit and the photoperiodic timing system used in plants, and while plants use different molecular signals (constans vs EYA3) it appears that widely divergent organisms probably obey a common set of design principles. © 2014 The authors. Published by Bioscientifica Ltd.
- Pars tuberalis
- Thyroid hormone